At the time this publishes, there are at least 30 NFL players who have decided to opt out of the 2020 season due to coronavirus-related concerns. That number is sure to rise in the next week as the deadline for opting out approaches.
Sources I spoke with around the league estimated one or two players per team would opt out, and it’s reasonable to assume we get to 64 players by the deadline.
But what we haven’t seen — and what we may not see at all — is an NFL coach deciding not to participate in this season.
“Coaches may have concerns but they are like soldiers,” one coaching agent told me.
To be clear, a person’s choice on whether to participate in this NFL season is theirs alone to make. But there are some obvious reasons why we haven’t yet seen a head coach, coordinator or assistant “opt out” of this season.
There is no $150,000 or $350,000 waiting for coaches, like there is for these players who have opted out. The NFL Players Association collectively bargained for these sums, the former for voluntary opt-outs and the latter for high-risk players choosing not to play. Coaches are not unionized, so there’s no central group fighting for their salary benefits.
Without that incentive (if that’s what you want to call it), it would be difficult financially for the average coach to voluntarily sit out a year. If you’ve never been a head coach or top coordinator, you likely have not generated generational wealth through this profession. In short, like most of us, you don’t have the luxury of not working.
Which teams will have a breakout offense in 2020? And what will Damien Williams‘ opt-out mean for the Chiefs? Ryan Wilson and Tyler Sullivan join host Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to break it all down; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
Then there’s the fear that if you sit out this season, you may never get back in. Landing an NFL coaching gig is hard. Keeping it is hard. Finding a new one once you’ve been canned is hard. Add in the fact that, among sources I’ve spoken with, the general consensus is there won’t be much front-office or coaching turnover from 2020 into 2021 because this will be such an aberrational year (plus the financial costs of hiring a new staff after massive revenue losses). Opting out now for the 2020 season may leave a coach sidelined until the 2022 season.
The league has tasked individual teams with doing the best they can to protect players and coaches alike, but the risks remain. Plenty of 60-plus-year-old coaches are employed across the league, including six head coaches.
“Nothing yet,” one coaching agent texted me Thursday. “You might see a few down the road.”
If the situation with an NFL team becomes as problematic as the current one with the Miami Marlins, could that be a scenario where a high-risk coach removes himself?
GMs must be careful what kinds of players they sign amid COVID-19
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said it perfectly. “It’s one fail, all fail,” he told reporters Thursday. That’s his way of messaging to players that if they want a full season, they all have to do their part to keep themselves, and thus each other, safe from the coronavirus.
And that’s why general managers are going to have to be careful about who they sign to their team during this preseason and into the regular season. Even the dumbest of combine interviews don’t account for “will you promise not to jeopardize the season by doing something dumb during a global pandemic?”
If a player wants to go against the recommendations of almost every reputable health professional and not wear a mask, that’s something teams should know. If he has, let’s say, questionable views about vaccines, that’s something teams should know. And it doesn’t stop there.
If it’s one fail, all fail, there’s no reason for a team to bring on a loose-cannon type of player. Yes, I’m thinking of Antonio Brown, one of the best wide receivers of the 21st century who can absolutely still go out there and put up a 1,200-yard season. Brown has very publicly proven himself to have poor judgment. The risk he brings into your facility with his extracurriculars would far outpace the reward on the field, because you may not even make it to the field that Sunday with him on your roster.
“Character” is and has always been a nebulous term in the NFL. But in 2020, a valid character concern is where a guy puts his team’s success at risk away from the facilities for his own selfish, foolish and/or arrogant reasons.
More players likely to follow Farley
Farley is projected to go in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, so it makes enough sense that he decided to begin training for that eventuality while protecting his health and not play for free.
A GM I spoke with recently told me he was expecting this sort of decision and expects more. How many and how big of names? That’s impossible to say, since all of these decisions are personal. But much like stars sitting out meaningless bowl games, the more who do it, the easier it’ll be for the next guy.
What you’re likely to see are players going to facilities like EXOS this fall and into the winter, rather than just the six weeks leading up to the combine. We may see testing at the combine like never before because of that.
One word of caution from scouts I spoke with, though. While they may understand why a blue-chip athlete would take this route (even if they disagree with not playing this season), there are likely to be guys who need to improve their games on the field this season who decide to instead train for next year’s draft.
The same thing happens every year with the dozens of underclassmen who go undrafted with eligibility remaining.
Farley doesn’t have to worry about that. He should hear his name called by the early second round, and he likely won’t be the last top-50 prospect to choose this option for this fall.